Royals’ mixed bag: Highs, lows and in-between

CLEVELAND — In many ways, the Royals’ 5-4 loss to the Indians on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field was typical of this season — there were positive aspects but just a key play here and there doomed them.

Here are three takeaways from the defeat, which still left the Royals at an impressive 7-3 since the All-Star break.

The good

Royals prospect Bubba Starling looked as comfortable in the batter’s box as he has since being called up prior to the last homestand.

Starling roped a 94.5-mph one-hopper to second for an out in the second, hit a deep drive to center in the seventh, then smashed his first big-league home run off closer Brad Hand in the ninth. The home run was hit at 104 mph — Starling’s hardest-hit ball since coming up from Triple-A — and traveled an estimated 406 feet, per Statcast.

“Bubba was taking some great swings that at-bat,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Then, ka-boom. Good for him. Hardest-hit ball since he’s been here.”

Starling said work with coaches Terry Bradshaw and Pedro Grifol, specifically on pitch selection, has helped lately.

“I’m getting more locked in,” Starling said. “I felt pretty good today. [The home run] was pretty cool. But unfortunately, we came up short in the game. I’m more worried about wins and losses. Hopefully, we get [wins] in Atlanta.”

Royals right fielder Jorge Soler hit his 27th home run. And Soler, who has struggled with the glove this season, made the defensive gem of the day — robbing Jason Kipnis of a home run in the fourth with a leaping catch just over the wall in right.

“I don’t know that his defense has been in question to me. It’s been getting better and better,” Yost said. “We are trying to maximize his health. We’ll play him two games in Atlanta in right field without the DH.”

The sort-of good

While starter Glenn Sparkman’s line wasn’t impressive — 5 2/3 innings, nine hits, five runs (four earned), two walks, one strikeout — he wasn’t far from a quality start.

Sparkman’s 15-inning scoreless streak came to an end in the third when Francisco Lindor seemingly pulled out his 7-iron and golfed a slider just off the dirt into the right-field seats. The two-run homer tied the score at 2.

In the sixth, Jose Ramirez, just like Lindor, dug a slider out of the strike zone and lofted it into the seats in right.

“The pitch to Lindor was what we wanted to do,” Yost said. “It was down in the zone but Lindor got in front of it and got the barrel out and powered it out. … But I thought Sparkman threw the ball well today.”

Sparkman, too, thought the sliders to Lindor and Ramirez were decent pitches.

“Both homers were down in the zone,” he said, “but they are good hitters and went out and got them.”

The bad

Sunday wasn’t a stellar day for the Royals’ defense, outside of Soler’s gem:

  • Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert dropped a foul popup, though it didn’t hurt the Royals.
  • A throwing error by shortstop Humberto Arteaga allowed a runner to reach, which preceded Lindor’s home run.
  • And ultimately the deciding run came across because of some inattentiveness from first baseman Lucas Duda.

In the sixth inning with two outs and Kevin Plawecki on first, Lindor hit a one-hopper over Duda’s head. But second baseman Whit Merrifield, shaded to his left, ran down the grounder in short right field and made a terrific play, throwing back to first. The only problem was that Duda had given up on the play and had his back turned toward Merrifield as the second baseman threw back to first. Lindor was credited with a hit as Plawecki advanced to third.

Oscar Mercado followed with an RBI single that made it 5-2.

“I think [Duda] just took for granted the ball was down the line when it got by him,” Yost said. “He didn’t think that Whit would be there. I don’t know if [we] make the play. Whit grabbed it and threw it to the inside of the bag…I don’t know if we [get the out].”